Love 'em or hate 'em, Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich were definitely the most talked-about team on the seventh season of The Amazing Race. The ex-Survivors dominated the race from the very first leg, regularly finishing in the Top Three and winning scads of prizes. But their scheming ultimately didn't get them to the finish line in first place — they wound up placing second to Joyce and Uchenna Agu. Here, the now-married couple discuss their controversial approach to the race and tease their TV future.
TVGuide.com: Coming to the finish line, how far behind Uchenna and Joyce were you?
Rob Mariano:We were about 30 minutes behind them, but we pretty much knew it was over when we got to the cigar shop. We were disappointed that they held that plane from Puerto Rico to Miami to let Uchenna and Joyce on. If they hadn't, we would have had the race in the bag. We were pulling away from the gate and then all of a sudden the plane backed up and the jetway was pulled out. American Airlines owes us a million bucks. [Laughs]
TVG: Sounds like you may have some conspiracy theories about the way this played out.
Rob: We'll leave that up to the viewers to decide. It was a bit sketchy to me. I don't know the last time you saw anyone re-open a plane door for somebody. And it wouldn't have been too dramatic if only one team was running to the finish line.
TVG: Was it difficult to relive the experience again last Tuesday night?
Amber Brkich: Yeah, watching the finale was a little rough. We had kind of forgotten about it and then, all of a sudden, all those emotions come back up again. It was tough because we were ahead pretty much the whole race and we were feeling really, really good when we got on the plane.
Rob: They didn't show it, but I was yelling and screaming at the producers on the plane. And the thing that got me is, watching the show, you didn't even really see Uchenna and Joyce lobbying that hard to open the doors. They just seemed to magically talk to the pilot somehow. In my experience, I've never been able to do that. Regardless, it's in the past and our hats are off to Uchenna and Joyce. They fought a good race, they ended up winning and we give that to them. If anybody else was going to win it besides us, we're glad it was them.
TVG: Rob, this is the second time in a row you've finished second after dominating the competition. That's got to be frustrating.
Rob: Yeah, it's tough. And Rupert ran away with that "America's Tribal Council" thing. So I've had three shots to win a million bucks — well, four shots [including] Marquesas — and I came out second place three times. But we had a great time doing the race regardless. We got some awesome experiences out of it and we got to visit some great places and have a good time.
TVG: And you got some good prizes out of the deal, too.
Rob: It's not even close, bro. I'd trade all the prizes in a heartbeat for the first place win. I don't even want the million, I just want to come in first in something! [Laughs]
TVG: How does The Amazing Race compare to Survivor? Easier or harder?
Rob: It's a tough question. They're completely different shows, and I can't say which is harder. Survivor is more physically demanding on your body, but the race is definitely more stressful in the fact that you're always on the move. On Survivor, if your alliances are good, you can attain a certain comfort level where you can relax a little bit. Here, there's no relaxing. They're both a lot tougher than they look. I was blown away by the sleep depravation on the race. For the first three days, I didn't sleep at all and I was thinking, "This is like Survivor all over again!"
TVG: Did you go on the show with the intention of messing with the rules?
Rob: That's always my strategy with every game I'm playing. And not once during the race did Amber and I ever break the rules — we always played within them. But let me tell you something: Make sure your rules are well-defined, because we'll find a way around them if we have to. Some people have the philosophy that if the front door is closed, they'll sit and wait until it opens. Our philosophy is, if the front door's closed, let's go around to the back or to the roof or underneath. And I think that helped us a lot on the race.
TVG: It didn't win you many friends, though.
Amber: We've been doing this for a while now, and you learn that not everyone out there is going to love you. Your friends and family are there first and foremost. Those are the people who will love you before and after, and that's really what matters. And you know, after your first reality show, you go, "Oh, that was nice, we made a couple friends." But when you get a second chance like we did on All-Stars, you think, "OK, how many times do you get a second chance at winning a million bucks?" So this is our third shot and we're not going out there to make friends. We already have friends; we already have family.
Rob: A lot of the racers definitely had preconceived notions about us and I can see where they're coming from, to a degree. We're previous winners and you don't want the winners to win again, OK. But I think they took it to the extreme. More than half the teams out there were more concerned with whether they were beating us rather than where they were in the race. If they had paid more attention to their own game instead of what we were doing, I think they would have done a lot better. Of the teams, only Ron and Kelly really took the time to get to know us on a personal level. They would talk to us in the airports. What you don't see is that a lot of the other teams wouldn't come near us. I don't know if they were intimidated or what. But they did not make an effort, and when we made an effort to try and talk to them, they thought we were scheming.
TVG: Do you think your celebrity gave you an unfair advantage?
Rob: I don't think it gave us an unfair advantage. It definitely gave us an advantage to a degree, especially in Peru and Africa where people actually noticed us for being on Survivor. However, a lot of times, all we did was get locals to help us out. It's a simple concept and it's been done in the past. I got the idea from watching old episodes of the Race. Why the other teams never did it, I will never know. They saw us doing it, so they should have just followed our lead. But it's easy to cry about things afterwards when you don't do so well and look for excuses. I think it's obvious with a lot of the teams' post-interviews. You can see it.
Amber: I think every team has an advantage, you just have to figure out what it is. For example, Meredith and Gretchen's advantage was that they're an older couple and people kind of wanted to take care of them and help them out. So as long as you figure out what your niche is, you can use it to your advantage.
TVG: Do you think that you've left an impact on the game?
Rob: Oh, without a doubt. I wouldn't say that we impacted it in a negative way; I'd say in a positive way. We played the game differently than it's ever been played before. We've probably changed the game forever. I think people will think twice and realize that it's a competitive game for $1 million. That's a lot of money; it will change somebody's life.
TVG: You were definitely working like a well-oiled machine. How did you manage to keep the stress from impacting your relationship?
Amber: It's distracting when you waste time arguing. You'll stand there for five minutes arguing and other teams will pass you. Rob and I went into this game knowing our relationship wasn't worth $1 million, so we weren't going to throw away our relationship over that. A lot of people do go on the show and it hurts their relationships, which is unfortunate. But it's a great place to learn how to compromise. I think if you do that, you come out a better person.
TVG: There was one point where you seemed close to arguing, though, at that Fast Forward in South Africa.
Amber: Well, I wasn't talking to Rob at that particular point. So when he was telling me to make a decision I was like, "Too bad, I'm not talking to you." [Laughs] We had been lost for two hours and I was still mad about that. So that was one of our biggest frustration points. That was also the leg where we came in fifth place.
Rob: That was my fault also, because in retrospect, it wasn't 100 percent her decision. We were both indecisive — neither of us knew what to do. Here's the thing: We're a normal couple, just like everyone else. We do fight and we do argue. Especially when you're in that kind of situation, the stress gets to everybody. So, of course, sometimes we snap at each other, but we're smart enough to realize that we need to stop it then and there. Like everything in life, it's about compromise.
TVG: So what's next for you both? More TV?
Rob: Well, we've got the wedding show on May 24 and, after that, we've got a pretty full schedule. I'm going to play in the World Series of Poker this summer again and give that another go. And stay tuned, because we've got other things in the works. We're negotiating right now. As soon as we can tell you, we'll let you know.